Directed by: Andrei Tarkovsky
Starring: Nikolav Burlyaev, Valentin Zubkov, Yevgeni Zharikov, Stepan Krylov, Valentina Malyavina
Probably because it wasn’t a project of his own devising, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Ivan’s Childhood (1962) is comparatively accessible, runs a mere 95 minutes and is generally dismissed as one of the diretor’s lesser works. I think that’s both unfortunate (I can name some later film of his I like a lot less) and ill-advised. Yes, the film has a certain air of basic Soviet cinema, and it owes much to Jean Cocteau, Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman, but it’s a powerful film all the same. More to the point, it’s the film where you can see Tarkovsky becoming Tarkovsky. Its story—about a 12-year-old Soviet boy heroically acting as a spy against the Nazis in World War II—feels a good bit like Soviet-approved propaganda, but its presentation doesn’t. The way the film effortlessly moves in and out of fantasy is remarkable. The fact that it has obvious influences from Cocteau, Welles and Bergman is hardly a downside. When all is said and done, don’t most modern filmmakers owe something to all three? Plus, Tarkovsky doesn’t just evoke them, he filters them to his own ends. The scene with Ivan on the truckload of apples with the negative rearscreen may well be from Cocteau, but Tarkovsky goes places with the concept that are entirely his own. Most astonishingly, the film hardly seems 50 years old. It feels stylistically as fresh as if it had been made yesterday—even to some very striking use of handheld camerawork. It’s really something of a masterpiece.
In Brief: Andrei Tarkovsky’s first feature — a tale about a very determined 12-year-old working as a Soviet spy against the Nazis in World War II — is a fascinating work that finds the director already fully-formed as concerns his mastery of images, though leaning more heavily on his more obvious influences like Jean Cocteau, Orson Welles and Ingmar Bergman. But don’t sell Ivan’s Childhood short. It’s a masterful work in its own right.